Transcript of Episode #106 of the OEITH podcast, Tales of the Goetia, presenting stories of encounters with spirits from this magical system, and reflections on the nature of the demonic.
For this episode, I invite you to get yourself comfortable and draw up around our imaginary campfire for some stories of experiences of the Goetia, which is a magical system that I think quite commonly causes magicians to huddle together and share tales of wonders and disasters, and sometimes just really, really strange, weird stuff.
If you’re new to the Goetia, I’m not really going to go into detail about what it is and how to do it. There are plenty of other places where you’ll be able to find that. But, instead, I’m just going to talk about some experiences that I’ve had, tell some stories, and share some ideas on what seems to me to be the nature of the spirits of the Goetia.
Before I started practising magick I was interested in writing fiction, and it was in that context that I first came across the Goetia, or that text known as The Lesser Key of Solomon the King. I was on a writer’s forum, and somebody was writing a story about demons, and they wanted a source that they could use to draw on for a story about someone summoning a demon, and someone got back to them and pointed them to The Lesser Key of Solomon the King, and I checked it out online and was immediately fascinated by it.
What struck me about it most was the catalogue of demons and the quaint language that these were described in, and the really bizarre range of things, qualities, powers that these demons seem to offer to the person who called upon them to perform certain tasks. Such as the description of the ninth spirit, Paimon: “He appeareth in the form of a man sitting upon a dromedary with a crown, most glorious, upon his head. This spirit can teach all arts and sciences and other secret things. He can discover unto thee what the earth is and what holdeth it up in the waters, and what the mind is and where it is, and any other thing thou mayest desire to know.”
I mean, it’s irresistible, isn’t it? Why wouldn’t you want to have a conversation with an entity like that? But reading the text there was, of course, the background knowledge that these spirits are demons – they’re evil. And what was clear from the instructions given for summoning them was that they’re troublesome; they will do you over, if you give them the opportunity to do this.
According to the instructions given, this is a kind of magick constantly fraught with danger. The materials that we’re in contact with in this system, the spirits, are hazardous materials, and the paraphernalia of the ritual: the circle, the triangle with the names of power, the Solomonic talisman you’re supposed to wear, the rhetoric of enforcement and constraint that’s being employed in the evocations you’re recommended to use – as it’s presented to us in the text, this seems to be a system of magick where, to realize your aim, you’ve got to come into contact with dangerous substances. And the structure of the ritual itself seems focused on enabling you to do that in a safe way.
These entities are presented as like ferocious animals that will turn on you if you give them the chance; that’s their nature. At this time in my life, I was working my first proper job, and getting on with life in general, but something was nagging at me, at the back of my mind, which was certain experiences I’d had as a teenager when a few of us had started messing around with the Ouija board. Some strange things happened around that time, which I’d never found a material explanation for, and it had left me with a nagging sense that there was something going on apart from the everyday reality that I could see around me, and so I started to wonder whether magick could be a means of intentionally taking myself into that other world that the Ouija board had opened up when I was a teenager, but which I drifted away from in pursuing an everyday, normal life.
Among my collection of notebooks, there’s a small, skinny notebook from October 2004. The notebook opens with an entry for Halloween, and it describes my first ever intentional magical working, which was a scrying session with a black mirror that I’d made. My first experience of the Goetia came in the February of the following year, 2005.
Memory plays strange tricks on us. I realized that my memory of the circumstances around my first goetic ritual weren’t quite what I thought they were when I went back to my actual notebooks, which reminded me how important it is as a magician, when you’re practising magick, to always write stuff down. Always, always keep as detailed a record as you can of your experiences. You won’t regret it. Your notes will be like gold dust when you later come back to look at them and see where you’ve travelled from.
I’ll start with the story that I thought was true, the story I’d told myself, which was that my intention with that first Goetic working was to attract like-minded people to myself. I was just beginning magick. I was all on my own. None of my friends were into this stuff, and the internet wasn’t quite in the same state as it is today. There was no social media back then. So, what was I going to do? Well, of course, the answer was clear: I was going to summon a demon. I was going to summon a demon and ask it to bring like-minded people to me, so that I would have people I could respect and look up to and learn from and practise with. What could possibly go wrong?
So, I did the working, and the experiences I had during that working I’ll talk about in a bit, but the name of the Goetic spirit that I summoned I’m not going to mention, and my reasons for not mentioning it I’ll also explain later. But first of all, the results of the working, as I remembered them.
So, having done the working and summoned the spirit and sent it off to find for me like-minded people I could look up to and learn from, a few days later I was at work. I was working as a programmer, and I was on a panel, an interview panel, because we were recruiting a new programmer to our team, and there were various candidates, and one of them seemed okay, seemed a nice guy, quite young, unusual in that he was Canadian and had a British wife, and they decided to settle in the UK. And he seemed to have all the right skills, so myself and the others on the panel, we decided we were going to hire him. And I think he’d been on the team a week or two, and we were all sat fairly close to each other in the office, working, and I needed – I can’t remember what it was – some version of some software at that time, something fairly commonly available – like Adobe Reader, or something like that, and our new team member mentioned that he got a copy on a CD that he had in his bag, and he lent me the CD and I stuck it in my drive, and I installed the software.
But I noticed that on his CD there were some folders, apart from the one in which the software had been. Folders that seem to have books in them: eBooks, pdfs of books – and what do I discover? Lo and behold! Loads of stuff by Crowley. Loads of weird-looking texts that I’d never heard of. So, I asked him about this, and we got into conversation, and he’d been practicing magick for a good few years. And he was the person who first lent me a copy of Peter Carroll’s Liber Null and Psychonaut, and who told me about the existence of the IOT, and who introduced me to chaos magick.
For the purposes of our story today I shall refer to him as “Jean-Paul”. As I would later find out, Jean-Paul was a very experienced and seasoned practitioner of the Goetia, but I’m going to backtrack for a moment, go back to the ritual that I’d performed, what I did and what happened.
The big dilemma facing me at that time, especially as a beginner to magick, was I had this text, this grimoire, and there were all these instructions – so how was I going to put this into practice? Which bits of this ritual were essential, and which bits could I skip out or adapt because, you know, I lived in a one-bedroom flat, and it wasn’t going to be possible to go chalking words of power and circles all over the floor. But luckily, I found an article on-line by somebody who took a very practical approach to things, and that gave me the confidence to decide that it was possible to strip it down to its bare essential elements.
So, I knew that I was going to need a circle in which I could stand and protect myself from the spirit, and I knew that I would need a triangle in which to summon the spirit, and some sort of medium for it to manifest. So, I put some incense in there and I put a black mirror in there, so that I could scry into the mirror from a distance, and maybe receive a communication from the spirit by that means, if that turned out to be how it was going to manifest. And inside the circle I decided I would have a pentagram around my neck with the sigil of the demon on it, because it seemed to me that you needed to specify what spirit it was that you were calling in some way or another. And also, in a local magick shop, I’d come across a talisman of the Hexagram of Solomon, which is also specified in the text as a protective measure, so I had that looped over my belt throughout the working. And I’ve got the sense from the text that you’re not supposed to be on your own when you do a Goetic evocation; you need some greater authority on your side, and it’s by that authority that you do all the bossing about of the spirits. But I wasn’t entirely comfortable doing this in the name of the Judeo-Christian God, simply because that wasn’t a tradition I felt at home with at the time.
So instead, I called upon the goddess Athena. That first magical working, that scrying that I mentioned: the result of that had been a vision of a rather serious-looking woman who walked towards me and seemed to take an interest in what I was doing, and through subsequent workings I later ascertained that this was a manifestation of the goddess Athena, who has remained my go-to goddess ever since. So, it was under the patronage of Athena that I had resolved to do my demon bossing. And I had the traditional names of power around the triangle as well, because it seemed like that was a good idea. But I really went to town on the whole thing. I cleaned the flat from top to bottom. Moved all the furniture around so I had space, and pretty much throughout the whole day I was burning incense in the flat, and what I decided might work well was a combination of wormwood and mugwort. And I was burning this stuff pretty much all day in the flat, constantly, to get it really imbued into the atmosphere. I really recommend it, if you get the chance to use it. It produced a really dark, heavy, suggestive kind of atmosphere in the flat and the two of them, maybe, but the mugwort in particular may have been a little bit psychoactive.
Mugwort tea is sometimes good for inducing really exceptionally vivid dreams although, in my experience you have to drink a hell of a lot of it. So, I’ve got the incense and I’ve got the candles burning everywhere, and the flat was cleaned, and I’d laid out the triangle in black masking tape on the carpet, and I carefully spent a lot of time doing the circle in black masking tape as well. And, as I’d planned, by this time darkness was falling. The sun was going down and I’d very much managed to create for myself a sense that something dramatic was about to happen.
Looking back over the notes I made, I see that the evocation took a long time and I had to do a lot of exhorting and bossing the spirit about before I got a manifestation. And it came in a form that took me completely by surprise. I’d been expecting something, you know, just like a shift in the atmosphere or a change in temperature, or a sense of presence. You know, something like that, which is often the form a manifestation takes when you do an evocation. But what I got instead was a moaning, howling sound, physically heard coming through the wall at a particular spot. A sort of groaning, shouting, bellowing, which maybe shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did on one level, because, you know, as you may be aware the word “goetia” literally means “howling”.
I remember thinking to myself: “Did I really hear that? Did that really happen?” So, I asked the spirit to confirm its presence and, sure enough, the sound came again. And I asked it some questions, and the sounds came again in all the right places and seemed to sort of modulate and change a bit in a way that seemed to be giving responses to what I was asking.
This is from the notes that I made in my diary shortly afterwards: “I made a point of not threatening or cajoling the spirit, but I did come close. I did lose patience, and I think that helped. I don’t think he wanted me sitting there without getting wound up. It didn’t feel the way things feel with Athena. There wasn’t the intimacy or the sense of presence. Until he moaned there wasn’t a sense of presence with the spirit. It felt like it had to be a material manifestation or nothing. The form it took summed up how the experience felt: a muffled voice in another room, not words, but moans, grunts, and growls, very faintly heard.”
So, the whole experience was very much a sense of a material manifestation, and my whole experience with Goetia has been that this is what tends to happen when you compare it with other types of magick. The experience and the results tend to take a very physical, material form, but, to come back to that wailing, moaning voice that I heard, every spirit has to have a means of manifestation, and the building directly next door to my flat was a residential home for children with learning disabilities – children and young adults – and on occasion some of these kids were audible, so what I heard very probably didn’t emerge out of thin air but, as I mentioned, I had incense smoke there as well, and the black mirror, yet it was through those sounds that the experience of the spirit manifested rather than the mirror or the smoke, and that’s maybe not completely down to chance. But could it possibly have something to do with the form the ritual takes itself: the configuration of it, the kind of relationship suggested between the magician and the spirit, and the expectations that the whole combination sets up in us as we conduct the operation?
So, there you go. That was my first Goetic working. I went into it with the intention of attracting like-minded people to myself, and the ritual was really dramatic in terms of the experience that it created, and the results were monumentally successful when Jean-Paul came into my life within a few days.
Well, that’s what I remembered having happened until, like I said, I came back to my actual notebooks earlier this week. Because what I discovered, to my surprise, was that I’d already met Jean-Paul before I did the working. I’d already known him for a while and I imagine that he was one of the reasons why I turned to Goetia in the first place, because he used to talk about it a lot, his own experiences. In fact, the intention behind the working had been to attract more people.
Now, I’m not sure why I thought it was necessary to resort to a Goetic invocation to bring that about. Certainly, I wouldn’t do that now for something so mundane, and looking back on my notes I see that the results of the working were really very far from successful. I started to get the sense that I was being played around with. Being manipulated or goaded in some way. So, I’d performed the ritual to make contacts but what started to manifest shortly after that was actually the opposite going on. I’d noticed existing relationships becoming strained. People I was trying to connect with online were ignoring me. People I had connected with turned out to be not very nice.
And I noticed something else odd that was happening too, which was magical intentions that I’d ruled out or had only thought about, without doing a ritual, were actually being realized. So, there was a guy at work who was seriously getting on my nerves at the time, and it crossed my mind to include something in the Goetic ritual that would strike back at him in some way. But I decided against that because it was unethical and vindictive. Yet, after the working, things happened to this guy. He had a serious run of bad luck that caused him quite a bit of suffering. And a couple of people who’d come round to my flat shortly after the working, including my girlfriend, had both fallen ill afterwards. And for a couple of days there had been a weird atmosphere that felt like it was lingering in the flat, probably mostly due to the effects of the incense smoke. The smell of it lingered for quite a while.
What it was starting to feel like after that first working was as if I was being drawn into something. Things that I hadn’t asked for I’d got. Things that I had asked for I hadn’t got, and, in fact, the opposite had been manifesting, creating problems. It was feeling as if some sort of trap was being set for me, and I reached the point where it started to feel that it needed to be sorted out, so, somewhat nervously, I decided to summon the spirit again and have it out with it, and, if necessary, like the texts suggested, threaten it with punishment if it didn’t fulfil the instructions that I’d given it. And, I’ve got to say, what happened in that second evocation was probably one of the most terrifying magical experiences I’ve ever had.
So, I set up everything in my flat same as I’d done before. Gave it a good clean. Incense and again the circle and the triangle in black masking tape. And I had to pop out for something. When I got back the masking tape had kind of crinkled up and all sort of twisted, somehow, and it looked as if it had been ripped up. It looked really freaky. But anyway, I laid it down again with fresh tape and got ready to start the ritual, and then a sea mist blew in, as sometimes happens in Brighton, but it made the light all sort of strange and fuzzy, and made the day really quiet and ominous, which did nothing to calm my nerves about what might happen.
The whole thing felt like it was going wrong from the start. There was no response to the evocations at all. It felt like the spirit wasn’t responding. Whether that was because I was doing something wrong, or because it simply didn’t want to, I couldn’t tell. I had some objects with me inside the circle: I’d got the text of the ritual that I was using to read the evocations, and I had a notebook and a pen, and a few other bits and bobs. And while I was in mid-flow, with this sense that I was getting nowhere and just talking to empty air, suddenly the pen on the carpet in front of me – just lying on the carpet – suddenly moved – kind of jumped all by itself.
So, this is an object inside the circle suddenly moving all by itself, inside the circle, where the demon is absolutely not supposed to be. And I was wearing a pentacle around my neck, which is part of the ritual: you wear a pentacle with the seal of the demon on the reverse side. So, at the same time as the pen moved inside the circle, I felt a kind of energy or sensation rush from the base of my spine up my back and go really, really quickly and suddenly into the pentacle around my neck. The only way I can describe it was it felt like the pentacle was alive, like it had suddenly come to life around my neck. And it was intensely enervated. It was like it was suddenly very, very hot or very, very cold – whatever it was, I couldn’t tell, you know. It just had this huge sense of energy about it, and instinctively I gasped and ripped this this thing off my neck. I just needed to get it away from me, which I did, and my heart was pounding, and I was really shocked and frightened by what I just experienced.
And that was it. After that, nothing. Absolutely nothing. No matter how many times I asked the spirit to give me a sign, nothing. No communication. But the most terrifying thing, of course, was what had just happened had happened inside the circle. So, it had felt as if the spirit had come into the pendant around my neck, but I was inside the circle. That’s absolutely not what’s supposed to happen. And, you know, what conclusion could I draw from that? Well, I was left feeling as if the spirit had basically sent me a message saying: “You’re nothing to me. I can get you whenever I want. I’m not doing what you’ve asked me to. You’re not worth listening to.”
So, anyway, as you might imagine, slightly shaken (to say the least) by all of this I felt I had no alternative but to go for the nuclear option, which, in the text of The Lesser Key of Solomon, if the spirit absolutely refuses to do the magician’s bidding, then what you do as a final resort is to burn the spirit’s seal, and in that way the deal is off and that spirit is obliterated from your universe as a magician. And that’s the reason why, to this day, I do not mention the name of that spirit.
But I will mention the names of the spirits involved in the other two stories that I’ve got to tell. The first of these involves the twenty-sixth spirit, whose name is Bune. “He is a strong, great, and mighty duke,” it says in the text. “He appeareth in the form of a dragon with three heads. One like a dog, one like a griffin, and one like a man.”
Now, you might have thought I would have learnt my lesson with what happened with the previous spirit, but I think there were probably two things going on. The first of them was that I was spending more and more time with Jean-Paul who worked with the Goetic spirits a lot and had plenty of hair-raising and incredible tales to tell. And also, I’d realized there’s something very distinctive about Goetic magic. It has its own unique vibe, and it did seem to produce results and experiences on a very material, physical level, which other forms of magick didn’t seem to do. And at the time there was something fascinating about that. It had a certain allure which had quite a bit in common, maybe, with my teenage Ouija board experiences.
So, by this time there was a little group of us and, just to say, that this little grouping had nothing to do with the results of the working with the previous spirit because it was quite some time afterwards – about a year later. And we decided to set up a little, regular Goetia group. As it happened, this never got off the ground. We only had one meeting, and in that single meeting we did a few preliminaries. We evoked Bune just basically to say “hi” as a prelude to further workings. And, once again, looking back on things, I’m not sure how great an idea that was; whether it’s really a good approach to evoke a spirit just to say “hi” to it, especially when the text makes it very clear that these are the sorts of entities that will do us harm if they get the chance. You probably don’t want to be summoning something like that just to say “hi”, but that’s what we did and, as it turned out, it was a fairly nondescript kind of working.
Later on, in the evening we went back to the house of a couple of the participants, a couple to whom I shall give the names “Mike” and “Julie”. So, I’m there, and Jean-Paul is there, and also there is someone who you might be able to guess, but I’m not going to name explicitly. And we’re at Mike and Julie’s, and we don’t know each other very well. We’re getting to know each other. We’re drinking some wine and talking about magick and stuff, and it starts to become apparent that Julie is quite a forthright character, let’s say. She’s quite upfront in her demeanour. When you talk with her, she likes to let you know who’s boss, but we’re in her home and she’s offering us her hospitality, so fair enough. However, Julie’s character and some of the things she’s coming out with in the course of our conversation are not going down well with Jean-Paul, and the more Julie sees that she’s provoking a reaction in Jean-Paul, the more she lays it on.
It gets to about midnight, and quite a bit of wine has been taken by this point, and Julie finally pushes Jean-Paul’s buttons one button too much, and he’s clearly pissed off and decides to leave. Myself and my magical colleague however, we’re having quite a good time, so we hang around until about two in the morning, but at about one o’clock something quite upsetting happened.
There’s a knock at the door, which in itself is quite odd at 1am in the morning. And Julie gets up to answer the door, see who it is, and we hear some talking, and we hear some sort of commotion, and finally Julie comes back in, in a really distressed state, carrying a dead cat.
It was a big, lovely, cuddly ginger tom, and oddly we’d all noticed this cat in the street outside when we had arrived at their house. Now, Julie had cats but luckily this cat wasn’t one of hers. But what had happened was some neighbours, I think, or perhaps a passing couple had spotted this dead cat in the road outside, and it had only just been killed. And it looked a bit like one of Julie’s cats, so they brought it round because they thought it might be hers. And, as I said, luckily it wasn’t, but of course she was really, really upset to be presented by this at one o’clock in the morning by some strangers. And she’d agreed to bury it, which was why she brought it inside.
So, anyway, Monday morning comes around and I’m back at work, and I see Jean-Paul again, and he’s still absolutely livid about the way Julie treated him on the Saturday night, and when I mentioned to him about the dead cat arriving at one o’clock in the morning, and how upset Julie had been, this strange expression appeared on Jean-Paul’s face: a kind of shocked delight.
What it transpired had happened was Jean-Paul decided to summon Bune again, all by himself at home – no circle, no triangle, no ritual accoutrements or protections at all – and had asked the spirit to “give Julie what she deserved”. That’s how he’d put it and when we’d established the timings of all of this. It turned out that the dead cat had arrived at Mike and Julie’s soon after Jean-Paul had done this evocation at home and – I don’t know, I’m not sure – but after he’d heard what happened I’m not sure if Jean-Paul didn’t actually feel quite guilty. But whatever he felt he was also still angry, and he was vacillating between saying that he would never work with Mike and Julie again, that he was going to quit our group that we had going – it was a full-on drama. And when we tried to suggest to Jean-Paul that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to go evoking Goetic demons in your own home without any protective measures, he completely disagreed and at the time he actually said: “You’re going after the wrong demon. The demon you should be going after”, he said, “was the one inside the circle” – meaning Julie.
So, not only had he summoned a demon into his house without any protection, he’d also left it up to that spirit to choose a punishment for Julie. He hadn’t even put any stipulation on what was going to happen! So, let’s just suppose for a moment that, subsequently, something horrible had happened to Julie: an accident, or she’d come to some sort of harm. Because Jean-Paul had left it up to the demon to decide the so-called “punishment”, if something horrible had happened then that would have been the realization of Jean-Paul’s intent, which, of course, ethically puts him in a horrible position.
The question of causality and magick, of course, is a whole other topic but, as a rule of thumb, I think most magicians would accept that if we intend or wish something in our magical working then we are responsible for that to exactly the same degree that we would be responsible for actions. Also, what came to light in my conversations with Jean-Paul, was that he’d been calling on Bune frequently for all sorts of things, not using any of the ritual protocols at all, and it seemed that what was happening with him was similar to what I’d experienced in my first working with a Goetic spirit: all sorts of little problems manifesting in my life, crying out to be fixed. In Jean-Paul’s case he’d given notice on the place where he was living because he’d found somewhere new, but then only to discover that the new place he’d supposedly secured had fallen through. So, he’d got no place to live.
“If you’re going to be doing magick to find a place to live,” I said to him, “please, lay off Bune.” And I could see by his expression when I said this to him that that was exactly what he was planning to do.
I’ve seen this quite often with people who work with the Goetia a lot, or similar magical systems. It’s like the spirits really get inside their heads to a degree where they seem to become dependent on them, and then it’s almost as if their lives then become full of lots of little problems like I discovered myself, which then need those same spirits to fix them. It’s almost like a kind of mafia protection racket. What I did, in an attempt to ease things a bit was to try to get away from the demons and get some other sort of energy involved. So, I did a working to call on the archangel Uriel to intervene and sort things out. And in fact, I learned another hard lesson from doing that. I did the evocation and this vast energy showed up that was way, way more powerful than anything that was needed to fix this situation. And I remember sitting there and my first response to this was: “Oh, I’m so sorry. Sorry.”
Again, I think, as magicians we’re confronted with this eternal question of whether it’s really necessary to call on entities to resolve mundane problems. This was just a drama, just personality dynamics playing themselves out, and you don’t really need an archangel to sort that out for you. And eventually, over a bit of time, things settled down and Jean-Paul also seemed as if he was leaving Bune out of his life.
My final tale of the Goetia today concerns the forty-fourth spirit, known as Shax: “He is a great Marquis,” says the text, “and appeareth in the form of a stock dove, speaking with a hoarse voice, but yet subtle. His office is to take away the sight, hearing or understanding of any man or woman at the command of the exorcist, and to steal money out of the houses of kings and to carry it again in 1200 years.”
I had by this point got very heavily into chaos magic, and I was doing workings with a large group of people, and one night I was walking across town and suddenly this idea for a ritual suddenly popped into my head: a whole, fully formulated idea. And it had a very strong Goetic element to it, and almost immediately that this idea came to me as I was walking along, I saw this horrible thing: it was a pigeon that had been injured, or was badly ill, and it was on its back and fluttering around and around in a circle, obviously dying. It was just a horrible image of suffering. I didn’t think of putting it out of its misery at the time. You know, I wouldn’t have been able to do that. And there was a kind of ominous feeling about the whole thing. It felt like some sort of sign. And because that ritual had just popped into my mind shortly before, and it had a Goetic element to it, I found myself thinking: well, if this is an omen then which Goetic spirit would it be pointing to? And I looked through the list and I decided to go with Shax, because of his appearance in the form of a dove.
The ritual that had come to my mind was something that I called “Reverse Quaker Goetia”, and it was based on the idea that if the Quakers can hear the word of God by collecting together and sitting in silence, then could the opposite be true? Could it be that in the random noise of chaos we might hear a demon speaking to us?
There was this piece of software available at the time. You would feed it a sound file and it would chop it up into little segments and play it back to you with those segments all mixed around. So, it was a kind of software ghost box that could create kind of audio cutups from speech. So, instead of incense or a black mirror, inside the Goetic triangle I had a CD playing with some of these audio cutups on it, and it was a group working, so everyone was inside the circle. And I got everyone repeating over and over “Shax, I evoke thee” until they entered glossolalia and there was just noise – random, bizarre, chaotic speech everywhere. And when this had died down everybody listened to the random sounds coming from the triangle and listened for the voice of the demon.
According to my notes, I very clearly heard the phrase “lucky, delightful babies”, although that didn’t seem to lead anywhere significant. Again, there are warning signs here. Foremost among them perhaps, it being obvious that although I had an idea for a ritual, that had seemed to come before any kind of intent! This is often a danger when you’re working in groups. I think you want to think of a really good ritual so that people will have a really interesting time, and sometimes the ritual ends up being more important than the intention behind it, which, of course, is problematic.
At the time the group had some sort of overall wealth working going on, so what I did was I hung this ritual on the intention behind that. Shax seemed a suitable spirit to call on for this, given that he “steals money out of the houses of kings”.
A couple of weeks later I was in the health food shop and there’s a couple of customers in there, apart from myself, and someone behind the till, and one of the customers is looking at stuff on the shelves, and the other one, is in front of me in the queue for the till, and then suddenly I notice out of the pocket of the guy in front of me in the queue, some money drops out onto the floor.
There’s a fiver drops onto the floor, but also a wad of twenties. And this guy, obviously he’s felt the money drop out, because he bends down to pick it up, but for some reason he only picks up the fiver. So, there’s this wad of twenties still sitting there on the floor right in front of me that he’s not noticed that he’s lost. It’s like everybody in the shop is in a kind of trance. The guy hasn’t noticed the money he has dropped; the person behind the till is working away, occupied; and the other customer, they’re sort of browsing – they haven’t seen any of this. So, I bend down, and I pick up this money. And no one has seen me. No one has seen me pick it up. And I recognized it at the time – I was thinking to myself: this is the money from that working that I did.
But I couldn’t do it. I gave the guy his money back. And he seemed really appreciative of that, and the person behind the till was quite appreciative of it as well. But there was no way I was going to take it, because it just felt wrong. And again, in hindsight, it felt as if I probably should have realized that something like this was bound to happen because, as it says in the text, Shax steals money from the houses of kings, so, obviously, any money that was going to show up was going to be stolen money, and when it came to the crunch, I didn’t want stolen money.
Over time, and given the experiences I’d had, I started to come to the conclusion that Goetia was a system of magic that didn’t really hold much appeal for me. In that working with Shax, I’d asked the spirit for money. The money had been provided typically with Goetia in a very basic, material, physical way: money dropping on the floor in front of me. But I hadn’t been prepared to accept it under the conditions in which it had been provided, and that really seemed to reveal something to me.
So, suppose you ask a person for something. You say to them: Can you get me this? And then they bring it, and then you don’t want it. You probably really shouldn’t be bothering them in the first place. And that’s what I realized was going on in the way I was using the Goetia. It has a glamour about it. It has a materiality, a dramatic physicality about it. But that was all, at the end of the day, that it held for me. Evidently, I wasn’t prepared to accept what it offered on the terms on which it offered it. So, I’ve tended to steer clear of it ever since.
One very striking thing I’ve noticed down the years, in cases of people who do a lot of work with demonic spirits or who have experiences in which they’ve been distressed or bothered by what they’ve interpreted as a demon, is something very odd indeed, which is that no matter how much they seem to be suffering from the attentions of this spirit, they’re unwilling to give it up.
I’ve had people approach me and say, “I’ve got this entity in my life and it’s making my life a misery. It’s doing this, it’s doing that. I’m experiencing this awful thing, and that awful thing.” But what’s most often the case is if you turn around and say, “Right. Okay. Let’s get rid of this thing. Come on, let’s do a ritual. Let’s get it out of your life,” amazingly they’ll start to make excuses for it, or start to come up with reasons why that’s not possible. And I think maybe this gives us some interesting clues as to the nature of the spirits in the Goetia, of demonic or “evil” spirits in general, maybe.
Now, Crowley famously, at one point, says that for him the Goetic spirits are “portions of the brain”. He seemed to approach them, at one time, as very much as if they were kind of some sort of psychological phenomenon. The psychological paradigm makes a kind of sense when you’re looking at things from the perspective that we’re all separate individuals. But, I think, from a more mystical, spiritual perspective from which it’s clear that there’s no such thing as a separate self, then stuff that arises in experience is self-luminous and from that perspective it makes no more sense to say that a demon is part of the mind than it does to say a mind is just a collection of demons. The way I would look at it now is like this: the spirits of the Goetia are spirits. And what is spirit? Well, for me, spirit is that which does not exist. It has no form. It isn’t anywhere. It isn’t made of anything, and you’ll never detect it with any instrument ever, because there’s nothing there to detect. But just because something doesn’t exist doesn’t mean that it’s not real and doesn’t mean that it can’t have effects. A prime example is money: money doesn’t exist. You can’t find any money anywhere apart from representations of money, whether that’s cash or bank statements. Money itself doesn’t exist. Only representations of it exist, but that doesn’t mean money isn’t real. And if you go about the world with the assumption that it isn’t real, it’s not going to be long before you run into serious trouble. So, likewise, spirit doesn’t exist, but representations of it exist, and we make these representations in order to interact with it. And it’s not just the representations of spirit that are real because, obviously, there’s some sort of necessity to make those representations, so spirit itself obviously has reality even though it doesn’t have existence.
Now, obviously, things that exist can be different from each other. Things exist in different ways. So, if we’re saying that spirit is that which does not exist, then we’ve got a problem here. Because if there are different kinds of spirits, then the problem we’ve got is how do things that do not exist not exist in different ways? You might have assumed that what doesn’t exist is all pretty much the same. But there are things in our everyday experience that are there all the time, and are incredibly familiar to us, that don’t exist, and don’t exist in all manner of different ways. And these are relationships.
A relationship between two things doesn’t have any material existence. You’ll never find it. You’ll never detect it. You can’t measure it. Yet, of course, they’re obviously real and have massive real-world effects. So, the way I tend to look at it is that different sorts of spirits are different kinds of relationships to what doesn’t exist. For instance, you often hear people talking about a particular connection they might have with a deity. Somebody might say, “I have a relationship with Ganesha”. So, my take on this would be not that Ganesha is out there somewhere, in some sense, and we have a particular connection with Ganesha, but that Ganesha itself is a certain type of relationship to the absolute, to spirit, to what has no material form, to what doesn’t exist.
And I think that the Goetic spirits, demons, are characterized by a certain type of relationship to spirit. People who work with demons or who are troubled by demons, as I’ve suggested, don’t seem to want to let go of them, and that speaks to the type of relationship to spirit that a demon is. It’s a relationship that’s characterized by a kind of holding on, a kind of clinging, a kind of self-perpetuation, a kind of co-dependency maybe. You get the sense that a demonic spirit couldn’t be happier than being in a situation where the person it was attached to needed it to get absolutely everything in that person’s life done. It seems to want us to need it for absolutely everything. It kind of steals our desire away from us.
Ultimately, of course, some people take a very different view of the Goetic spirits and working with them. And one of the things I’ve seen pointed to is the evidence that the spirits listed in The Lesser Key of Solomon the King are basically old, pre-Christian deities dressed up in a demonic disguise. For example, various characteristics of spirit number fifty-six, Gremory, seem to link this entity historically to the goddess Astarte, and there are other persuasive examples of this also, and it might be argued that, well, these are not really demons at all; they’re actually ancient gods that have just been demonized retrospectively by Christianity.
But my response to that would be that what I still think is important here is the type of relationship that’s being expressed in that manoeuvre. Okay, these might be ancient gods that a Christian culture has attempted to cast out and dress up as “evil”, but there’s still a fundamental sense in that case of an entity that wants, an entity that clings, that endures, that perpetuates – a senile has-been god – but, despite all that Christianity has thrown at it, is still making itself felt. It’s not going quietly and is still clinging on, demanding our attention and observance.
We can connect with these ancient deities in their original, divine forms, if we want to. But that’s not what’s being presented to us in the text of The Lesser Key of Solomon the King. The relationship to spirit that we’re being encouraged to adopt in this system is a relationship to something that clings, that’s hungry for our desire. And in that case is it any wonder that the experience and the results of Goetic magick tend to take the form that (in my experience) they do, which is often a very direct, physical, in your face, kind of an experience.
It’s not a system of magick I would recommend to anybody, but unfortunately, in magick, like in everything else, we learn from our mistakes and our errors. So, I don’t really expect that any warnings I put out there are likely to deter anyone, if they want to make the experiment.
Anyhow, I’ve reached the end of my tales around the campfire, and my ad hoc philosophizing, for now. Don’t have nightmares. Look after yourselves and, if you’re bothered by entities then the most important thing, I think, is to make a resolution to free yourself from them. You can do that, if you want to. Look after yourself and let’s speak again soon.